I wake up with a splitting headache, next to a woman I don’t know, in a room I only vaguely recognize.
The woman is beautiful, pale, with short red hair and elegant cheekbones. She’s snoring, a kind of deep, rolling thrum, that makes me think of satisfied cats.
A frame on the nightstand is rotating through digital images, the two of us smiling in ski gear, standing on a beach somewhere, a string of wedding photos.
There’s a phone next to the frame. As soon as my thumb touches the screen, it comes to life, Hello Bryan, and unlocks.
The first message is from MyCloud. Please log into your account and update your payment options to resume memory service.
I open the app, but when I try to recall my login info, it’s just not there.
The second message is from my boss, Anji Draper. Hey Bryan! Sry to mesg on a Sat. Nouveau Foods not sold on design changes. Can u wrk up alts by 5?
I may not recall the woman next to me or the details of our life, but I know Nouveau Foods.
Their corporate profile, mission statement, and ad campaigns for thirty years — including their last, a test-tube-shaped logo disaster — are crystalline in my explicit memory.
So, too, are the sixty-hour weeks, boozy post-work meetings, and Anji’s promise of a promotion if we land the account.
I must have been keeping most of my personal life in the cloud, or at least everything that was making it harder to focus on my job. Including my wife and our life together, apparently.
I’m about to click the MyCloud recovery link when she opens her eyes. “How are you up so early? After all those martinis last night, I thought you’d want to sleep in.”
Well, that explains the headache. “Nouveau Foods. Anji says it’s an emergency.”
There’s a dresser against the wall opposite the bed, but I have no idea which drawers are mine. Luckily, it looks like I abandoned my clothes on the floor. I start pulling everything on while my wife watches.
“Fucking Anji,” she says, and for a second I’m not sure whether it’s an accusation or a curse. “Whatever. Don’t forget what I said. I know you’re still hurting. I am too. But things need to change.”
“Right. Okay. Just let me take care of this, and we’ll talk.”
What I need to do is get out of this room, log into MyCloud, and give them a new card number, but there are three closed doors to choose from before I can escape.
With all the casual confidence I can muster, I walk to one and pull it open. It’s a closet.
My wife says, “What are you looking for?”
The next door opens on the bathroom. My stomach does a backflip when I spot the toilet, and I get the seat up just in time.
“How much did you really have to drink last night?” my wife yells.
I wash my face and find a toothbrush. Thankfully, there’s another door leading out, so I don’t have to go back through the bedroom.
Skulking around the house like a burglar, I stumble on my home office and retreat inside, finally feeling like I can breathe. I start rifling through my wallet for a valid credit card, and that’s how I find the worn copy of a digital still taken from a sonogram.
Hesitantly, I go back to my phone and start swiping through photos. There’s almost nothing from the last year, but before that are shots of us looking at cribs, shopping for baby clothes, working on a nursery together. My hands are trembling.
I go back to the still. There are some dates scrawled on the back in fresh pen, and the words “in Seattle.” Immediately, I can recall a boardroom, a work presentation going well, and lots of coffee, but nothing else.
Maybe my login info will be stored on my desktop browser.
Shaking the mouse, I’m confronted by my haggard face on the monitor, the first image in a video file. I don’t look happy. Or sober. Next to the video window is a text file with a note. Play me.
I press play.
“You’re probably wondering about, well, lots of stuff.” He starts laughing, and his laugh becomes a hacking cough. He arrests it by taking a pull off a vodka bottle. After returning the bottle to the desk, he runs his hands through his hair.
“We need to make some decisions. Julia, your wife, she used to love us, maybe still does, but things are bad. Have been for a while, as it turns out, even before the miscarriage. Meanwhile, your job, well, we’re crushing it. But is that enough?”
The me on screen pauses and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, sniffs.
“What I’m wondering is, who could we be if we got rid of all this baggage, really got rid of it? So let’s find out. Everything that’s been messing us up is already in the cloud. And at midnight, the account is getting locked, because our credit card’s expiring, so,” he takes another pull off the bottle and coughs again. “We’ll figure it out.”
And that’s it.
“What the hell kind of stupid drunk logic is that!” I yell. My phone starts beeping and flashing Anji’s name.
I thumb the reject call button. Good people don’t abandon their spouses after tragedies, off-load their lives, bury themselves in work, and drink themselves into blackouts.
Marching back upstairs, I find my wife still in bed. She looks at me as I come through the door and sits up, cocking one eyebrow. The comforter slips into her lap as the morning sun pours through the window behind her.
“I’ve done something incredibly stupid,” I say, “and I think I’ve been an awful husband.”
“Yes,” she says. “You have. But we both know that’s not why I had the affair.”
William Delman is the father of an energetic Zygon, an occasional denizen of Twitter (@DelmanWilliam), and a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu at Fenix BJJ West Peabody. He also writes fiction. Previous stories have appeared in The Arcanist, Little Blue Marble, NewMyths.com, Kzine, SciFan, Bastion, and other fine publications. He resides in The Witch City, Salem, Massachusetts.